Friday 30 October 2015

That radio commercial!

Freaky Friday!

Well, actually it wasn't so bad at all.

At the due time I turned up to record the radio advert for my books on my local radio station NECR Scotland.

John was very welcoming and popped me into the 'box'  where I recited my spiel. My suggested text had been changed very slightly from my final version because my local radio tend to do only '30 second' adverts when it's a concentrated burst of broadcasting. My original commercial was running at around 1 minute which I managed to reduce to 45 seconds - pretty well a 'no breaths in between' job.

The version which will broadcast next week, on three consecutive days, will have some underlying music which I have still yet to hear, though I'm really looking forward to hearing what John will choose for it. I hoping to be able to share at a later date after it has broadcast!

All in all, it was a positive experience and one which I could actually have done in only 1 take if John hadn't decided to have me repeat the telephone number - something which had been 'cut' by the advertising department to shorten it. Saying it twice won't do any harm, I don't think...and it's closer to the 3 times recommended by most internet sites on 'How to write a radio commercial'.

Tomorrow, I'm off to sell my books at Ellon, Aberdeenshire. We'll see how that goes.

Pssst... I'm really not wanting to think about that magical 'C' word yet since it's only Halloween tomorrow but the craft fair of tomorrow has been advertised as a "Christmas Craft Fair" so I have to get out the twinkling red and green lights and the tinsel.

Oh, no! Shock horror. I don't have tinsel and will have to make do with some tiny tasteful Christmas items- just to set the mood for PRESSIE buying.


Wednesday 28 October 2015

6 goodies for writing a radio advert

Welcome to a late Wednesday post!

I was recently interviewed on my local radio station, only the second time I’ve experienced anything similar.

The first occasion was a ‘live’ telephone interview for a ‘hospital broadcasting studio’ in the greater London area which I found particularly nerve wracking because my hearing isn’t great and I fretted that I’d not hear what the broadcaster was asking me. It wasn’t the best of phone connections but I muddled my way through the nerves and didn’t think it was too bad- though could have been better.

My interview last week was a very different experience. I was asked to arrive around ten/ fifteen minutes before the programme was scheduled to start, at which point I’d be introduced to the DJ who would ‘prep’ me for the programme.

Arriving bang on the dot of 15 minutes to 10 a.m. Colin—the NECR Scotland DJ —was there to greet me and put me at ease, though I wasn’t nervous at all. He was lovely and asked me some early questions, some that weren’t on the bio and other info about me sheet that I’d emailed in to the station. Down in the studio, I still wasn’t particularly nervous –even though I had to wait through some 20 minutes of general programming introduction for the Morning Show and a few music slots.

The interview, I’m told, went well and I seemed coherent enough. Afterwards, I talked about the possibility of running an advert for a few days. It’s not yet a done deal, but I’ve been investigating what would make a really good local radio advert to encourage local sales of my novels.

After viewing some advice on Youtube videos, and reading some articles, a summary of what seems to be best for me would be some form of the following for a typical 60 second advert.   (official ‘writing a radio commercial’ terminology is included)

  1. The opening attention grabber…Catch the listening audience attention by asking a relevant question or by creating a need. Answer this by naming the product within the first few seconds.
  1. The distinctiveness of the offer…Give the listeners an enticement like something unique about the offer.
  1. Express the message articulately and elicit an emotive response from the listener...Aim for direct engagement by offering a chance to explore the product and give them the benefits of buying the product.
  1. Call to action…Tell them where they can access/buy the product. Focus on generating sales by highlighting the telephone number, or email, or website. Make this the main thrust of the advert.
  1. Provide further information on the seller and products available...Mention anything relevant which makes the offer distinctly different, though plausible.
  1. Repeat the call to action…Repeat the ‘how to buy’ details

Other important details to think about in no particular order.
Ø      The advert should be announced clearly and articulately, ensuring that the listeners can ingest the information easily with little effort in listening. The reading needs to include/ be enhanced by non verbal communication ie enthusiasm of the voice-over person. Use strong positive language to enhance the product. Not to much info as it can overload the listener.

Ø      Use sound elements carefully and only if it enhances the product and doesn’t detract from the listening process.

Ø      Emphasise the local elements sensitively to avoid the ‘me-me’ isms.

Ø      Be sure that you can provide what you say in the add i.e. authenticity.

Ø      Choose a suitable style- Simple announcement; dialogue; testimonial; ask a person on the street/reviewer; life scenario with product given as the solution; story.

Ø      Only use humour carefully if guaranteed to work.

I’ve made a number of drafts and have settled on something that comes out at around the suggested 100 words which I can read within a 60 second slot. However, before I share what that is, I’ll run it past the radio station advertising department to see if what I’ve written will pass muster.


Wednesday viewing!

Wednesday dawns rainy and misty here in my neck of the woods.

It doesn't look like my plan for 'more autumn garden tidy-up' is going to happen today, so while I'm composing a radio advert, I'm sharing this video highlighted to me by a 'friend' on one of my Facebook groups.

I'll be watching the whole of it later but the beginning certainly looks promising since my current research reading is all about Hadrian's Wall. The wall is sure to feature on this video about the incredible feats of engineering that the Romans undertook as they extended their vast empire.



Monday 26 October 2015

My #Monday Moments are with Fianna

Good morning! It's not raining here and the day is set to be reasonably fine, though it will be fairly cool - I believe. 

I've no #Monday Moments guest today so I'm featuring Fianna Fraser, one of the characters in my time travel novel for Teen/ YA readers - The Taexali Game.

In this excerpt you'll see that Fianna's not feeling the cold, not at all! It's a nice long excerpt so a cup of whatever you fancy might be in order...

Fianna's thirteen and always gung-ho to try the fabulous advanced interactive adventure games created by Callum Fraser, her biological father. Usually, she'd prefer not to have her twin brother Brian play alongside her, or his best buddy Aran. Aran's a general know-all who gets on her nerves, but often Callum gives her no choice.

Here's a bio for Fianna with some more information:

Fianna Fraser lives in Kintore, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She'd love to have had a sister but all she got was a twin brother, Brian, who is a little younger than she is - all of eleven minutes younger! But she's sometimes sad to say those eleven minutes have made a huge difference to her growing up because her brother can often be a pain in the butt. Fianna thinks he needs to get a grip and not wait for her to make all the choices for both of them. Responsibility is fine, she thinks, up to a point. Being an adventurous sort, she thinks she's quite a resourceful person- people who know her would say that she's downright nosey! 

This long excerpt is Chapter 12... and the action is heating up. The teens think they are playing an interactive game which time travels them back to AD 210 when the Ancient Roman Emperor Severus, and his evil son Caracalla, have marched their Roman legions all the way north in Britannia to the lands of the Taexali tribes. We now call that area Aberdeenshire, Scotland. 

Is Fianna thinking it's all just a game? I'd love to know your answer after you read the chapter.


(For up to date information about The Taexali Game and my Rubidium Time Travel Series new writing'like' my Rubidium Time Travel page on Facebook. Just click the link HERE)

“Have all the outer guards trebled.”
Aran could hear the man bellow before he could even see him. Peeping out from behind the stall hanging, he watched the chief bluster his way up the roundhouse calling for his washing water. The man was in a foul mood. Again. Two warriors scurried after him listening and arguing with him. At his stall, Tuadh turned to the men and pointed a finger.
“Double the inner guard with our youngest warriors. We will have our Beltane rights in peace. See that it is done well.”
Disappearing inside his cubicle, still muttering to himself, Tuadh left the two men at his doorway. The warriors charged out of the roundhouse as though a hive of bees chased them.
Fianna crept into the boys’ stall. “Any idea what that was about?”
“Don’t reckon he was too happy.” Brian edged along to make room for his sister on the cot.
“Something’s upset him for sure, but then he always seems to be in a grumpy mood. Guess it must come with the territory.” Aran sidled further away from Fianna who was now sitting centrally between them.
Her face screwed up. “Whose territory?”
“The job. My dad says that if somebody is a big boss then he, or she, is always moaning about the responsibility.”
“You’re the one charged with our responsibility, and you’re doing plenty moaning right now.” Brian cackled, nudging him off the bed.
“Yeah, well we haven’t exactly been successful with the tasks Callum set for us.”
They had only recently returned to the chief’s roundhouse, Seonagh having told them to wait there for her.
Fianna was quick to answer. “We have.”
The look on his face must have had her doubting her answer.
“Well, we’ve covered a few of them.”
Aran didn’t feel so certain. Brian didn’t look too sure either.
 She continued. “You two have helped Tuadh by pointing out where the Roman camps are going to be. I don’t think I’ve been nosey enough yet, and that’s why I want to stay a bit longer.”
Brian started to recite their list of objectives. “Where? We know we’re at Kintore. When? We think it’s AD 210. Who? They’re the Taexali Balbathan tribe. Threats? The Romans are about to come and smash them to pulp.”
“Nicely put, Brian. This is the sticky bit. We don’t know yet if we need to give Tuadh more information to help his people.”
“Don’t forget the nasties.” Fianna’s heels drummed on the wooden support struts of the cot. “We’re supposed to help them as well, and before you say anything, Tyrnan isn’t one of the baddies. He’s just very serious about his job of keeping an eye out for Seonagh. Seonagh says he’s the best guard she’s ever had.”
“I’m warming up to Tyrnan but if he isn’t the baddy, then who is? We don’t know that yet.”
Brian sounded sure. “That Roman Severus guy. It has to be him. Hey, sis. Maybe you’re supposed to nosey around the Romans?”
“Sure thing, brother dear. If that’s the case, how am I going to do that? Do you see me walking casually out of Balbath and wandering down to the Roman marching camp at Deer’s Den? Am I going to find Severus and tell him that I’ve been sent to help him? I don’t think Tuadh is going to let that happen.”
“Evidence.” Aran tried to diffuse a twin argument from developing. “We need to think about what the visual evidence might be that Callum needs. Maybe if we focus on that, we’ll be successful with our other tasks, like we have been with the name of the hill.”
Before Aran could say anything else, Orla entered the stall looking very fine, her young daughter Caitlinn accompanying her. Grabbing Fianna’s hand Caitlinn dragged her off the bed chattering like a bubbly jock. The boys stood up, too.
“Come. We must not miss the beginning.” Caitlinn was in a hurry.
Orla held the door curtain open. “It is time to go, though you must remain close by me. Wear your cloaks. After dusk falls, it will be cool.”
Outside the roundhouse was a revelation. Many torches burned in high stands like the flambeau he’d seen on Caribbean holiday beaches, giving the growing dusk a festive air. People milled around chattering excitedly.
The unearthly beating of skin drums cut short the hubbub, the signal sound sending everyone scurrying towards the settlement opening. Aran sensed the restrained excitement around him as he and the other two trotted after Orla who clutched Caitlinn’s hand very firmly with one hand, a lit torch brand in the other. Apart from a sizeable number of young guards who were left at strategic places, everyone followed the drumbeats, surging outside through the zigzag walkway and on towards the training ground. Burning flares at the far end of the field beckoned the crowd.
When they reached the area, the brands he’d seen were markers indicating where the stacks had been laid. He grinned at Brian and Fianna, all of them caught up in the general excitement. It was the same sort of anticipation he always felt when he stood around the local bonfire. He was desperate to see what would happen since this was Guy Fawkes Night with a huge difference.
The swell of people came to an abrupt halt well before they reached the stacked wood; waiting for something. It wasn’t long before the crowd parted to allow someone to pass forward to the stacks.
Tuadh. A splendidly dressed Tuadh whose gold torque gleamed in the flare of his torch brand, the hilt of his sword and his unsheathed axe twinkling below. When the chief got to the first of the bonfires, he raised his arms high above him and began to chant. Though the words were difficult to make out it seemed he was incanting a spell to each bonfire as he approached it. One by one, he lit each fire, each flickering into action as the dry tinder ignited. When each was lit, the marker torch was cast into the flames making the corridor between the fires even wider. Soon eight roaring fires lit up the darkening blue dusk, four to each side of Tuadh.
To more ceremonial drumbeating, Aran watched the elders of the tribe proceed up the now well lit walkway towards the chief. Eventually coming to a halt, they arranged themselves alongside or behind Tuadh, a few rows deep, facing the awaiting tribespeople.
The drumbeat changed very slightly.
“Follow me!” Caitlinn in her firm grip, Orla moved through the noisy clutch of people and gradually made her way along the fire corridor, to her hearth-husband.
Aran and the twins towed at her heels, among the many people who now surged through the fire curtain. It seemed to be the turn of important warriors, those of high rank but who had not reached the status of being an elder of the tribe.
Orla whispered to Tuadh on reaching him. After the chief nodded, she turned back to Aran.
Orla was a woman of few words. The twins at his side, he trailed after her and Caitlinn as she went to one end of the row of elders, the bulk of the important tribespeople now clustered alongside the chief.
“Stand next to me, Warrior Aran.”
Another order from the chief’s wife but Aran wasn’t too bothered since the view was good. Fianna stood next to him, Brian on her far side.
Tuadh raised his hand, the torch brand held aloft. He said nothing, yet at his signal, the crowd at the far end quietened till the only sounds to be heard were the fires. They burned brighter and brighter as the flames licked their snaking tongues to the topmost wood. The sparks flew high, and the cracking and popping filled the now deepening dusk. A column of puffing smoke rose majestically from each blaze, since there was no wind to speak of. The wood smells were unmistakable as damp fiery debris floated into the air around their cheery brightness.
Anticipation was palpable, an edgy strain circling all around. Aran just knew something fantastic was about to occur. Then, as though no mortal person started it, a different thrumming rippled around him. From somewhere he couldn’t see, the low beat of the skin drums rumbled through the air – sending an even deeper expectancy over the throng. Eventually, when the tension had become almost unbearable, the faraway crowd silently parted and from out of the inky blue dusk came the strangest, most alarming figure he had ever seen. It walked with the body of a man, though the head was a huge stag with glittering rings adorning the twisted full-grown antlers.
It was fantastic!
It towered over the mass of people who parted to allow the figure to be visible by Tuadh.
Aran shared a quick glance with the twins. Fianna looked beside herself with glee. Brian all but hopped in his enthusiasm, as well. Nobody else grinned around him, though. Whatever was happening was a serious business to the people of Balbath. He suppressed the smirk that wanted to escape; his stomach flutters of pure exhilaration and expectation.
At the far end of the fire corridor, the figure stopped in all its splendour.
Fianna gasped alongside and he felt her trembling fingers clutch at his cloak. Her eyes glittered with sheer excitement. Though it was an unearthly looking figure, he knew it was a real live man underneath the strange helmet. Mapon was long gone, but he’d said his acolyte would remain and what a substitute he was. The figure was magnificent. In the tense hush around him, he truly appreciated the difference between seeing something similar in 3D on a screen, and what he now experienced in real live, seeing, smelling, touching… living.
Callum’s interactive story was incredible.
He realised that he’d actually forgotten about it being a story, being so drawn into the life at Balbath. Right that moment, he was so glad to be experiencing it.
The druid acolyte carried a strange staff, not unlike Mapon’s, but this one had a shining silvery animal head atop the shaft. Huge twisting antlers made it easy for him to recognise the head as that of a full antlered stag, which matched the figure’s magnificent headdress. The staff-top glittered malevolently in the firelight as the acolyte held it aloft, the weight needing both his hands to hold it high. The billowing robe he wore trailed around as he headed for the fire corridor with long strides.
When the druid’s footfall passed the furthest away fire, a carnyx shrieked its terrifying resonance alongside Aran, notes that lingered in the gloom. The tension amongst the multitude was so powerful he felt it ripple through him. It wasn’t a frightening feeling: more of an extreme exhilaration. Any of these objects – staff, headdress or carnyx – would be incredible evidence to take back to Callum. How could that happen though?
Without looking down, he became aware of Caitlinn who’d slipped from her mother’s grip. Sneaking in between him and Fianna the little girl bristled with anticipation. Orla nodded her approval when he glanced her way to indicate he was aware of her daughter. When the last resonance of the carnyx could be heard no longer, the acolyte’s voice replaced it from that furthest away fire, carrying mournfully up into the cloudless, now star-studded navy sky.
“Cernunnos, Lord of Darkness…”
Brian nudged Aran in the ribs as he mouthed, “Cernunnos strikes again.” His toothy grin shone white in the flickering firelight.
“Shut up and listen!” Aran whispered in his friend’s ear, wanting to be respectful.
The druid intoned a deep boom across the moonlight.
“Go with thanks. Yet come with blessings. With the mother-earth, Brighde, bring energy to our fires.”
The sounds of his chanting sent creepy shudders through Aran. Fianna dug her nails into his arm, her trembling transferring right through the fabric of his tunic. Caitlinn snuggled in even closer to him when the druid slowly paced his way up through the fire passageway, his eerie incantation increasing in volume as he walked towards them. Lamenting the passing of the dark winter moons his dirge was now addressed to Brighde, the name sounding a bit like the word bride – the name Aran knew to be the mother earth goddess. The acolyte came to a stop in front of the chief and his elders, and thumped the bottom of his staff to the ground.
So close now, Aran could see the mouth and chin of the mask had been cleverly cut away to allow the druid’s voice to be heard clearly. The man’s fierce eyes stared from eye sockets that had also been carved out. A soft hush came from the gathering then they all started to intone very softly in unison after he began to chant again.
“Healing fires. Burn brightly. Burn! Inflame us with your fiery strength. Bring us forth your fruitful blossoms. Let your sun shine brightly on us.”
The chant repeated itself as the trainee druid’s arms opened wide, first pointing dramatically to the right and then to the left. At the far end, the crowd parted. Still chanting, some of them moved off to the left and others to the right behind the fires leaving the far end of the walkway opposite Tuadh totally empty.
Aran looked around him. Everyone chanted quietly with only the smallest of children not joining in. Pretending to know the words Aran mouthed silently. Looking at Fianna and Brian he was thankful to see they tried to do the same. Better not to look too suspicious since it looked like they ought to know the words.
When the tribespeople were all settled well behind the fires, the high ranking warriors of the tribe came out and drove their spears into the ground, purposely set closely together like a barrier, alongside the staff of the druid. The line of weapons made a wall in front of Tuadh.
The people no longer chanted solemnly. Their pace had quickened, the verse growing louder and louder till it became a deafening roar. Yet, again, the sound of the shrieking carnyx stopped its momentum.
Into the immediate and dead silence came another disturbingly strange noise. Through the darkness, from beyond the rise at the far end of the training ground, came the loudest protest of bellowing animals that Aran had ever heard. The yelling of the farmers was impressive as they herded the poor beasts into a long funnel at the far end of the fire passage, a funnel created by a wall of warriors. The animals, clearly terrified of the flames and smoky smells ahead of them, lowed and snorted and bucked as they tried to evade their fate.
Standing in front of his staff, the druid’s voice roared above their din.
“Brighde, mother goddess, giver of life, purify our animals and bring bountiful fruit. Bring your sun’s energy to them through our conflagration.”
The crowd repeated the chant three times then stopped. They hushed again and waited for him to finish his entreaty. This time the druid’s voice was different. Not a chant any more as a druid, but the warning of a mortal man.
“This Beltane must be different, people of Balbath. Let your animals be sacrificed again rather than yourselves.”
The crowd’s low moan was eerie. All around them Aran and the twins could feel the alarm of the people of Balbath…though they could also see determination in their faces. Were the animals going to be sacrificed on these fires? Aran felt Caitlinn burrow in closer to his leg.
“Are they going to burn these poor cows, Aran?” Fianna whispered in his ear.
Aran’s head shaking was her only reply as the druid returned to his prayers. In actual fact, he hadn’t a clue what was about to happen.
“Let these healthy animals aid us to fight our foe as they did last Lughnasadh.” After the druid warned another time, he walked to one end of the spears and gestured to the people ranged behind the fires on that side, his arms waving towards the sky in a wide circular movement.
His silent signal didn’t make any sense to Aran. It still made no sense when the druid walked to opposite end of the spears and made the same gestures.
Returning to his staff, his arms and stag’s head rose skywards in open supplication. His voice reached epic strength as he bawled a prayer to the heavens.
“Oh, mighty Taranis, from your realm above, give our animals your blessing!”
On the last word, the corral of warriors holding back the cows began to split open. The first of the animals was lashed into movement, forced to launch itself down the avenue of fire towards the druid. The thwacking of birch switches, and the cries of farmers alongside the terrified beast, kept it in motion as it howled and screeched through the fire corridor. The rest of the animals surged forwards into the walkway on the hooves of the first. Running alongside the lowing beasts, to keep them in order, the farmers kept up their hollers.
It was like a mini-earthquake as the cows thudded their way up the glowing orange and red channel. Aran watched the people of Balbath kneel down at their place behind the fires as the beasts proceeded through the fire corridor. The tribespeople touched both hands to the earth below them to feel the pounding of the beasts. Women pulled down some now screaming and howling infants as the great charging of hooves rocked the soil beneath them, the reverberations rippling below the whole arena. Aran felt Caitlinn pull him down, Fianna and Brian following suit mimicking the tribespeople, since the elders alongside him had knelt to the ground as well.
The terrified cattle reached Tuadh’s end of the fire corridor. One by one, they hurtled themselves right or left when they were confronted by the line of spears. Once they had turned, they loped away from the crowds to disappear out into the darkness, where other warriors waited ready to quieten them. Aran understood the significance of the druid’s arm gestures now. The druid had been ensuring the space was cleared for the beasts’ exit.
When rounded up, the terrified cattle would be taken back to their enclosures.
As the last few animals started their charge, a huge and totally deafening roar went up from the crowd, drowning out the thunder of the cows as the people heralded the end of their cleansing ceremony. The few cows that remained bucked and swerved, here and there, trying to run off but were completely distracted by the human clamour around them.
One bewildered animal escaped the handlers and swivelled between the last two fires instead of completing the journey along the whole fire corridor. Terrified shrieks rent the air as the beast trampled over two men in the front row, pounding them into the ground, smashing limbs to pulp as the creature blasted headlong for the darkness beyond the kneeling people. Panic set in as the throng scattered in all directions away from the snorting and crazy beast. Not knowing which way to go in its headlong flight, it constantly changed direction.
“Flee!” Orla cried as the beast whirled towards them.
Aran felt his cloak yanked back as he leapt to his feet, the warrior behind him dragging him away. Brian’s shout indicated much the same was happening to him as he, too, cried out.
“Run, Fianna!”
Caitlinn whimpered in front of Fianna, too transfixed to even get to her feet. Scooping her up by the shoulders Fianna whirled the little girl out of the animal’s path, throwing her aside like a Frisbee and straight into the arms of a warrior who rushed to help them. Her back now to the animal, Fianna began to run but she’d only taken a couple of steps when its head pounded into her, pitching her high into the air like a rag doll before it charged off into the now cleared space around her.
Fianna thumped to the ground.

The Taexali Game is available from Amazon ...just click HERE


Saturday 24 October 2015

Folly...not likely - reblogged



It's a rainy wet Saturday morning and I'm off to sell my books at a FOCUS Craft Fair at the lovely town of Insch, Aberdeenshire.

I've published my every-second-Saturday post at The Wranglers blog. You'll catch that post HERE ... although I've now reblogged it below, since I'm home again.

Today, I’m out with my FOCUS Craft Fair group at an Aberdeenshire town named Insch (Scottish Gaelic: An Innis or Innis Mo Bheathain), about 14 miles North West of my home.

The Gaelic name for Insch is intriguing to me, especially the Bheathain part, because one of the minor characters in my Celtic Fervour Series is named Beathan. Beathan means ‘lives by a clear stream’ and when writing Book 1 of the series, I also found a reference to it meaning 'one with a great future' That sounded like a perfect name for a child who had been predicted by Nara's ( my main female character) druid brethren to be one who would, in the future, be a leader of the tribes. Back in 2011, I chose to simplify the spelling to make it easier for my readers - but now I'm not sure I should have.

Beathan is in Book 4 of my series (currently being written and that's an 'oh, dear still at it' moment) and, according to my long term plan, he will be the major character in the last planned book of the series - Book 5.
Wikimedia Commons
But back to Insch. (pronounced IN SH) Today, is the first time I’ve visited Insch to sell my novels and like all of the new venues that I’ve visited during the last year, I’ve learned a little about the place I’m visiting. Though it’s only a small town of just over 2 thousand inhabitants, it’s on the train line between the main cities of Aberdeen and Inverness. That might not seem like earth shattering information but most Aberdeenshire towns and villages don’t have a direct train link.

I’ve driven past Insch many times and have always admired the imposing structure that’s up on the nearby hillside. From a distance it resembles a folly but it’s not - it's a lot more than that.

The Hill of Dunnideer (locally also spelled as Dunnydeer) was the site of an ancient hillfort, thought to be of the Middle Iron Age ( maybe 350 B.C.-190 B.C.) though dating of it is uncertain. As with many of the other high hills around Aberdeenshire, the view from the top of Dunnideer is spectacular. It’s easy for me to imagine how those ancient inhabitants of the hillfort observed what was going on in the valleys below them. It’s not too far a stretch of the imagination to envisage a system of ‘fire’ signals between these high spots which would have alerted the tribespeople of the Garioch area to any substantial threat to their livelihood – like the huge threat of the Ancient Roman invaders I write about in my Celtic Fervour Series and in The Taexali Game, my time travel novel for teens. As a centre of power, religious or secular, those walls would have made an impressive impact. 

There's almost nothing left of the structure of the original hillfort. What’s still visible now is the arch of a pointed medieval window, which originally gave light to a first floor hall of a rectangular tower house. When intact, the tower house must have been a sight to see towering even higher over the landscape than the hillfort would have done. It was possibly very threatening to what would have been a simple agrarian community working the foothills below. By then, it would have stamped the 'serfdom' status of the people of the land as few other things would have done. It wouldn't have seemed that the overlord was an 'out of sight -out of mind' ruler. His tower house was definitely 'in their face' and would have been a daily reminder of who was boss. 

The building was first mentioned (in writing) as the stronghold of Sir John de Balliol in 1260, though it's likely to be much older than that.

Possibly the earliest tower house of its kind in Scotland, one of the walls has been known as Gregory’s Wall and it may have been built by Gregory the Great in AD 890. If not by Gregory, it could have been constructed by order of David, Earl of Huntingdon and Garioch in 1178. This David became King David I of Scotland

These sites give more details on David I, some of which may explain why he was possibly the one to commission the building of the tower house. 


What's also unusual about the remains of Dunnideer Tower house (sometimes named Dunnideer Castle) is that the granite blocks used to build it had been vitrified.  A vitrified hillfort was one where extreme heat caused a fusion of the stones, and some form of integrated wood, the continued conflagration melding them together. Charcoal deposits from the vitrification process have been carbon dated which have furnished us with the 'B.C' dates mentioned above. 

This vitrification process of adding such extreme heat on purpose is not well understood, yet. The reasons for it remain unclear though archaeologists don’t believe the ‘heat’ process was done to strengthen the building during construction. One theory is that vitrification took place after a deliberate destruction of the stronghold, either because it was under threat from an enemy or because the structure was no longer needed for its original use. Some theories indicate that the hillforts were not built for protection reasons but were perhaps religious or spiritual centres, and that the eventual destruction may have been due to a change in the belief system, or because the site was no longer used for the same sacred purposes. 

I'd very much love to know a whole lot more about these ancient hillforts. 

How about you?   

Here are a couple of photos taken from my phone camera on the way home today- a bit far away but what a beautiful early dusk!

Thursday 22 October 2015

Ah, those 6 what if...s

I wonder...and wonder some more! 

Caracalla, son of the Emperor Severus, appears in my time travel novel - The Taexali Game. In addition to reading about his exploits in northern Britannia, I've been researching about the legacy left throughout the Roman Empire by Caracalla. 

The arch of Caracalla at Volubilis -Wikimedia Commons

As well as the remains of The Baths of Caracalla, the fabulous bathing facility in Rome (read an earlier post), there are some other structures still able to be viewed which are attributed to Emperor Caracalla.
The remains of the triumphal arch at the Roman city of Volubilis, in Morocco, are found at the end of city’s main street, the Decumanus Maximus. Started in AD 217, in honour of the emperor Caracalla and his mother, Julia Domna, it was completed after their deaths.
The City’s Governor, Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus, had commissioned the arch in local stone, the top of which is believed to have been a bronze chariot pulled by six horses. At the foot of the arch were statues of nymphs pouring water into carved marble basins. Though Caracalla and Julia Domna had been carved into medallion busts, they have been defaced. Unfortunately, incomplete reconstruction by the French in the 1930s has led to some controversy over the authenticity.
Before the Romans extended the site, Volubilis covered about 12 hectares of land. Enclosed by town walls it was built to a fairly typical Phoenician pattern of streets.
The Tingis Gate
With the arrival of the Romans, the site was extended, the occupation area increased to around 42 hectaresCaracalla's arch was built at the junction of the old and new parts of the city: most public buildings in the older part and grand houses filling the newer areas. The Decumanus (main street) was paved with footpaths to each side, behind which was an arcaded line of porticoes- openings to many tiny shops.
The city was supplied with water from an aqueduct in nearby hills, the earliest form of this channel constructed between AD 60 -80. Over the decades, and even centuries of use, there were many reconstructions of the aqueduct. Complex plumbing fed water from the aqueduct to the houses and public baths, while drains and sewers carried the waste water away to the river.
North Baths -Volubilis
A spectacular sight may have been the large fountain at the city centre, fed from the aqueduct which was positioned near the arch of Caracalla.  
Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a very well preserved example of a colonial town on the fringes of the Roman Empire.
I’m personally intrigued by the fact that the extent of this Roman city- some 42 hectares – is approximately the same size as the temporary Roman Marching Camp at my home village of Kintore ( 44 ha) in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. 
If the Romans had not withdrawn from the lands of the Taexali, after the influx of troops of Emperor Severus and Caracalla in northern Scotland, I wonder if there might have been some granite remains of buildings to rival those of Volubilis.
It's an intriguing thought, but the what if can only be guessed at...

Wednesday 21 October 2015

#Welcome Wednesday with K B Walker

My #Welcome Wednesday guest is Crooked Cat author friend  - KB Walker. 
KB Walker

I'm delighted to welcome  Kimm back again. It's been a while since she last shared something here, though we managed a 'real live' brief hello in York last July when the Crooked Cat authors  gathered for a seminar. 

It's been a few years since I read Kimm's Crooked Cat novel Once Removed. It's a great read, with sensitively dealt with subject matter - Self Harm- and that's not the easiest thing to write about. 

She's sent along a really atmospheric poem to share, today, and a special kind of gift. I'll hand over to Kimm to explain what that is and how you can get it... 

Reading as a Group Effort

I love to read. It’d be my guess most authors do. The two activities have much in common as this poem reveals:

Through the window

Feet up, snug in a worn chair
Keyboard on my lap, I watch.

Sheep baa from the green slope,
Safe behind higgledy stone.
Cirrus clouds caper past,
Breezes stroke pregnant buds,
Branches quiver.

I pass through the glass
To the place where words play.
And slip inside the lives of others
In times and places of my desire.
Safely anchored, I can fearlessly touch
Death or birth, hate or pain,
Engineer wisdom and secure pleasure.

Fingers strive to craft readers’ portals
Into daydreams such as these.

Reading is an intensely personal experience. We disappear into worlds created by strangers (usually) but we take our baggage with us and see the story through our individual perspective. So why are readers’ groups so popular?

After my mother-in-law was widowed, she told me that Saturdays were the worst because she’d come home from her day out in town and have no one to share her observations with. Well-crafted books delight and often challenge us. It adds a dimension to our pleasure when we can share our observations and work through challenging ideas with others.

If I’m not deep in a book, I like to do Sudoku puzzles while watching favourite TV shows in the evening. Thank goodness my husband and friends drag me out of my boring comfort zone to try new things on a regular basis! Readers’ groups offer the equivalent service; pushing me to read books I would never have chosen myself.

Besides it’s great to have an excuse to meet with my friends over a long lunch and talk about books in and amongst everything else.

If you belong to a readers’ group, I offer a Readers’ Group Pack to accompany my book Once Removed. It includes some background information, questions for discussion (please don’t read them in advance, as they include spoilers), photographs of some of the settings and even a cake recipe to share over coffee or tea.

If you'd like a copy of the Readers’ Group Pack click HERE and Kimm will make arrangements to gift you one. 

Thank you, Kimm! I enjoyed your poem very much.

You'll find Kimm at: 

Amazon Author Page to buy Once Removed and a Life Less Lost

A little about KB Walker 
A storybook romance swept KB Walker from her American childhood to marriage, life and a teaching career in Yorkshire. Still captivated by the countryside after more than thirty years, Kimm enjoys bracing walks on the moors with her dog.

Becoming an author seemed as likely as being a princess or an astronaut but after twenty years at the chalk-face, Kimm left schools behind and set her mind to the dream. She's had several poems, short stories and articles published, won a handful of local prizes, as well as being invited to speak at events in the UK and US. 

Kimm's two grown up sons have left home now but in 1996, fifteen year old James was diagnosed and survived cancer against the odds. A Life Less Lost, her memoir of that experince, was published in 2009.

A foodie, Kimm recently discovered the joys of grow-your-own, loves 'doing up' old houses, reading, badminton, skiing and various crafts. 

Her debut novel, Once Removed, was published in 2012 by Crooked {Cat} Publishing.

Thank you for visiting, Kimm, and best wishes with all of your writing projects. 


Tuesday 20 October 2015

Radio date!


Tomorrow morning, Wednesday 21st October 2015, 10 a.m, I've an interview on my local radio station NECR Scotland (North East Community Radio)

I'm expecting to be answering questions about my writing- my Crooked Cat books and my locally set time-travel novel The Taexali Game

If the questions are not about that, then it might be a whole different ball game answering them! 

You'll catch that interview at NECR  10 a.m. (UK time) 

Though if you don't live near Aberdeenshire, Scotland, I've actually no idea how you might listen in to the 'live' broadcast. 


Monday 19 October 2015

#Monday Moments are with Cathy Bryant & her Pride and Regicide

Good morning! 

My #Monday Moments are with the incredibly multi-talented Cathy Bryant whose professional writing skills are used to impressive advantage.  

I met Cathy this year when she became a Crooked Cat author, her first novel Pride and Regicide having been published by Crooked Cat three weeks ago - though she's not new to writing.  

Cathy's worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won 20 literary awards, including the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in over 200 publications. Cathy's books  are 'Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature' and 'Look at All the Women' (both poetry), 'How to Win Writing Competitions' (nonfiction).  and 'Pride & Regicide - a Mary Bennet Mystery' (a novel). See her listings for cash-strapped writers at, updated on the first of every month. Cathy lives in Cheshire, UK.
(Read to the end of the excerpt to find out more about Cathy's competitions and inspiring wins!)

I'll be reading my copy of Pride & Regicide soon, since I'm gradually whittling down my kindle queue. I love reading Jane Austen's books so I'm sure to enjoy Cathy's humorous murder mystery based on daily life in the Bennet- style household.

Here's what Pride and Regicide is all about:

"Regicide? Oh, heaven preserve us! Was it the French? They will kill us all, and make us eat strange sauces."

So says Mrs Bennet, but the king is not dead - Miss King is dead, and it looks like murder.
Three years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet puts her formidable mind to work to solve the case, armed only with philosophy, her best friend, Cassandra Lucas, and some nifty detective techniques involving embroidery...

Cathy's very gallantly sent along a photo for us to admire- of herself and her new husband looking very swish in 'Bennet' attire! She's also included a wonderful excerpt that really whet's the appetite, especially for anyone who hasn't yet bought a copy of Pride and Regicide. I have to admit to picturing the cast of a certain BBC mini series version of Pride and Prejudice that came out in 1995 (THE Colin Firth /Jennifer Ehle one)  as I read this excerpt- and that was my most favourite film of the decade!  


“Murder!” exclaimed everyone, and then they all began to talk at once.
When the hubbub had subsided somewhat, Mr Wickham said, “Miss Bennet, can you be so sure that what you saw was the shadow of another person? Might it not have been anything on such a sunny day – the shadow of the bell itself, for instance?”
Everyone looked at me for my answer.
“No, sir, it could not,” I said, in a tone that was, I fear, cross. “It was shaped like a person, not a bell, and it moved like a person, not a bell or a tree or a cloud or anything else.”
Mr Wickham bowed and asked no more.
“A single shadow seems an awful lot upon which to base a theory of murder!” said Charlotte Collins.
“Oh, but the shadow is not all,” said Cassandra excitedly. “There is also the matter of—”
I silenced her with the angriest of looks, and she looked quite deflated.
“The matter of what, Cassandra?” Lydia asked.
“Oh – nothing – that is – nothing that signifies. I am over-excited and not certain of what I am saying,” said Cassandra, and looked at me with such misery that I forgave her on the spot.
“I still say that it is the French,” said Mother. “Who else behaves in this manner? It is quite historical. If you look at trouble and death in the history of England, I am assured that the French are entirely to blame for more than two-thirds of it. Depend upon it, they are in this somewhere.”
As Lady Lucas had one French grandmother (who was by all accounts the most genteel and charming of ladies, renowned for the sweetness and goodness of her character as much as for her beauty and noble birth), this was not tactful. Lady Lucas sprang to the defence of the French, saying (with some justice) that there was no reason to suspect that they had a hand in the current case. Mrs Bennet disagreed, and the argument fixed the attention of the table away from me, for which I was heartily thankful.
“Enough of such serious matters,” said Sir William Lucas after a while. “Fortunately you ladies do not have to deal with politics – we shall do so over our brandies, and you may rest assured that we shall find out the matter. If there is anything to be done, then I shall take steps to interest the Court in the affair.”
This was a hint that the ladies should stop meddling and giving their opinions of matters that should not concern them. The argument was curtailed. Lady Lucas set the example of withdrawing to the drawing room, and we followed.
“Mary,” said Cassandra. “I am quite disconsolate. I would never have betrayed the secret, only – only I could not let Miss King be suspected of suicide.”
“No, I understand,” I said. “Though I hope that our minister would not have jumped to such dreadful conclusions as Mr Collins did. But I do not blame you, Cassandra. I only looked at you so angrily to prevent you from telling of the glove.”
“Oh yes! Of course,” said Cassandra. “Do you know – that remark about you knowing all was the first time I have spoken out loud like that in company. I am grown quite brave. That is why I almost blurted out The Secret of the Glove.”
She said it like that, in magiscule, as if it were a chapter in a novel.
“I am glad that you are grown brave, Cassandra,” I said. “But I hope for Miss King’s sake that this courage will be mixed with discretion.”
“Oh yes,” said Cassandra, happy now that she had been understood and forgiven. “I expect that I will never dare to speak out again for five years or so.”
“I hope that you will, much sooner than that,” I said. “But not about anything concerning the murder. I wonder what the gentlemen are saying on the matter? They have probably discounted all our information, and are making themselves seem wise with political reflections about France, or on the frailty of the female sex.”
“Mary! What a dreadful thing to say!”
“I speak from experience, Cassandra, which renders my discourse allowable according to philosophical principles. Once, when I was just fifteen, I listened at the door.”

What a fantastic line to stop at...Cathy! (I need one of those **wink** emoticons here) 

And now here's some great advice from Cathy for winning competitions...and getting material benefit from it. 

As for 'How to Win Writing Competitions - and make money', I wrote it to show people how to win prizes for their writing without paying out lots in entry fees. It's the system I use myself, and I've gone from winning nothing at all to winning 20 writing competitions. My prizes have ranged from £1000 to a honeymoon in Italy! The publicity also helps to sell books.

My books are available from:

Thanks for joining me today, Cathy, and my very best wishes for great sales of your books.


Sunday 18 October 2015

Thermae of Caracalla – part 2

Thermae of Caracalla – part 2

Mausoleum of Hadrian- Castel Sant'angelo
After the death of the ancient Roman Emperor Septimius Severus at Eboracum (York), Caracalla and his brother Geta, left Britannia fairly quickly and headed back to Rome

Having buried the urn containing Severus’ remains in the Mausoleum of Hadrian (now known as the Castel Sant’Angelo) Rome, in AD 211, Caracalla soon turned his evil attentions on his brother Geta. Co-ruling with Geta wasn’t in his plans and getting rid of his brother seems to have been easy enough.

The sons of Emperor Severus don’t seem to ever have been particularly friendly. Arranging for Geta to visit their mother provided Caracalla with the opportunity to murder his rival co-emperor. As the story goes Caracalla stabbed his brother whilst in the presence, maybe even in the arms, of his mother whose pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears.

Baths of Caracalla 
With the stain of the death upon him, Caracalla as sole emperor then had to win the support of the citizens of Rome. He embarked on many projects both military and domestic, needing extremely grand gestures which would endear him to the populace. Building his fabulous bathing complex was just one of those strategies to make him appear benevolent to the public.

Huge building projects weren’t unusual in Ancient Rome and many of these were for the enjoyment of the general Roman citizen. Emperor Trajan had commissioned the architect Apollodorus of Damascus to build a huge multi-functional shopping centre in AD 117. Built on many floors, the Mercatus TrajaniTrajan’s Market—provided the Roman shopper with a novel building complex to buy all manner of wares. It provided all you could want to buy in the one huge building.
When it came to the time of Caracalla, the “Termae Antonianae” multi-function building was designed for much more than mere shopping. Whether or not it was the Emperor Severus, or Caracalla, who commissioned the building, it was a hugely impressive project.  

“I want this to be the biggest and best ever, most spectacular leisure centre in Rome!”

I don’t think that’s quite what Caracalla would have said to his cronies at the Senate in Rome but his baths complex must have been unbelievably extravagant and highly impressive in its day. Built between approximately AD 212 and 217, it had to have been the ultimate in contemporary bathing experiences… and a lot more besides.

Spending some time at the baths was a daily occupation for most Roman citizens but Caracalla was aiming even higher than that – his intention being to provide a fabulous day ‘in’ at the baths complex. 

His “Termae Antonianae” was built to such enormous scale that 1600 bathers could congregate in the main bath. (though by this time, post Hadrianic decrees had male and females segregated)

Though you might not have believed that if all you'd seen about the baths was this wonderful painting by Laurence Alma-Tadema.

The usual hot and cold rooms, saunas and massage rooms were available for conversation during cleansing but in addition Caracalla’s bath building included fitness areas—if desired the gymnasium and wrestling rooms were places to show off ones prowess and strength. 

When the ablutions extraordinaire were over there were libraries for quiet reading and contemplation. There were gardens to walk in, shops to look at and make purchases from, and restaurants to catch a bite to eat. Food and drink was consumed in convivial surroundings.

Free entry to Roman citizens drew in the crowds and his novel bathing facilities proved hugely popular. A figure quoted is that it accommodated some 6,000 -10,000 visitors every day.

Impressive remains can still be seen and the grandeur imagined…the heights of the marbled columns, the mosaic floors and decorative touches in niches all around.  

Like Trajan’s Market the bathhouse was set over four levels. Two levels below ground were storehouses and the firing area where the hypocaust system provided the heating of the water. The plumbing was state of the art, designed to keep constant and precise temperatures as required in the different bathing rooms. The ten tons of wood which were burned every day to heat the complex must have taken considerable transportation from place to place, the storage of it at a subterranean level.

mosaic floor

The two floors above ground level consisted of the range of cold, tepid, hot and sauna rooms, and all of the other multi functioned areas—beautifully decorated with marbled flooring and highly ornate walls. 

For the more active swimmer there was a huge pool open to the skies, a series of bronze mirrors mounted on the top of the building which were designed to deflect the sunlight down to the pool.

I’d love to be able to see that building as it was opened to the public around AD 216.
detail of mosaic

Though in the nature of the competition among Roman emperors it's not surprising that the Baths of Caracalla weren't the largest built in Rome. That accolade goes to Emperor Diocletian in AD 306, close to a century after Caracalla built his baths.

Stay tuned for more of what Caracalla built coming soon.